August 10, 2021 by Jason Contant
It looks like this year’s wildfire season in British Columbia could be one for the record books.
Between Apr. 1 and Aug. 9 of this year, the province saw 1,456 wildfires and nearly 650,000 hectares of area burned. This compares to the 10-year average of 1,356 wildfires and 347,104 hectares burned over a full fire season, said Anita Paulic, director of operations & catastrophe response for ClaimsPro in Vancouver.
“The province is greatly affected by this,” she said Monday. “With highway closures, visibility issues and air quality warnings, this year is quite substantial in comparison.”
Last year was a much quieter wildfire season in B.C., with 637 wildfires and just over 15,000 hectares of land burned between Apr. 1 and Oct. 1, 2020.
As of Aug. 5, there were 286 wildfires burning in the province, with more than 3,600 firefighters and other personnel currently fighting the blazes. Nearly 600 firefighters were from out of province.
“That just warms my heart,” Paulic said. “Six hundred people left their families and kids and summer vacation and came to fight the blazes here. Even though it’s a disastrous and unfortunate event, it does bring people together.”
“For me, just hearing that firefighters with years of experience are saying that they’ve never seen anything like it before is a good indication of what we’re up against out here,” Paulic added.
From a claims perspective, ClaimsPro is seeing a mixed bag: “everything from total losses to [additional living expenses] and everything in between,” Paulic said.
Shane Swinson, senior vice president, insurance portfolio at First Onsite Property Restoration, told Canadian Underwriter last week that the biggest impact claims-wise so far has been additional living expenses (ALE).
Besides the Lytton wildfire that burned down about 90% of the village on June 30, the wildfires have not affected any areas where there are commercial centres, Paulic said. Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ) has estimated that the Lytton wildfire caused $78 million in insured damage. There were roughly 300 claims, the majority of which were related to residential properties.
British Columbia had 63 evacuation orders and 103 evacuation alerts in effect as of Aug. 5. People from more than 4,200 properties have been ordered to evacuate, while more than 21,000 properties remain on evacuation alert.
Evacuation centre volunteers are also overworked and understaffed, Paulic reported. “It’s getting a little tumultuous,” she said.
And while it has been a challenging time, claims adjusters are supporting affected individuals, whether it’s through boots on the ground or utilizing technology, such as satellite aircraft, imagery and drones. “Unprecedented-type wildfire activity is not something that you can properly plan for, but we’ve had a lot of support come in from fire reserves and are able to still provide reinforcement to those affected, both in person and virtually,” Paulic said.
Feature image: Helicopters fly past the Tremont Creek wildfire as it burns on the mountains above Ashcroft, B.C., on Friday, July 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck